This page contains writings of an extremely fan-boyish nature about a Billy Joel concert. (Duh.) Perhaps you don't like that sort of thing. If so, tough. After all, it's my damn website. So if you are likely to be offended, nauseated, etc. by such writings, leave this page now. You've been warned.
It’s not hard at all to get great seats to a Billy Joel concert. You just have to be incredibly lucky.
In my case, I didn’t even know he was doing a concert locally until two days before tickets went on sale. I saw a small notice about it in the college paper on Thursday. On Friday the paper contained a full-page ad which was a bit harder to miss. In any case, I decided to go down to the Bryce Jordan Center, where the concert would be held, to get tickets.
It turns out they were using the wristband method. In order to prevent people from camping out for a week just to get tickets, anyone who shows up early is given a wristband with a number printed on it. Just before the tickets go on sale, a number is chosen at random, and whoever has that number ends up at the front of the line. In my case, the number chosen was roughly 2600, which placed me 104th in line. The line continued back from 2600 to somewhere around 4200, followed by 1, and then back up to 2599. The idea is to discourage people from arriving ridiculously early, since anyone who arrives early has an equal chance of getting to the front of the line, regardless of whether the person arrived two hours early or two days early. Seems to me the system works pretty well. But I may just be saying that because I arrived two hours early and got better seats than the people who arrived two days early.
In any case, the concert was on November 1, a Sunday. The Fox network was running The Lost World, which was fine by me since it meant I wouldn’t have to miss new episodes of The Simpsons and The X-Files (both of which will be in syndication until long after I die, so it wasn’t that big a deal anyway).
I arrived about half an hour before the scheduled 8:00 start. My seat was better than I had expected it to be, only three rows back from the floor. It was also by the aisle, which offered me a clearer view; after all, security was doing a good job keeping people in their seats and the aisles clear. I had been offered a seat on the floor when buying my ticket, but had turned it down. I wanted to sit above the stage level, and I didn't want to have to spend the entire concert standing just to be able to see over the people in front of me.
I was especially glad not to be on the floor when I saw the people climbing up the ladder to the lights. The whole set-up was hanging from the ceiling, swinging in lazy circles. While I was certain it was safe, I was just as certain I didn’t want to be sitting underneath it.
I was surprised to see that they had sold the seats behind the stage as well. Apparently demand was high enough that they opened those seats. Made for a louder crowd, that’s for sure. I also liked the haze. Standard concert fare, I’m sure, but it did wonders for the atmosphere.
At 8:04, a thought occurred to me: If Kaitlin was here, she’d be somewhere else.
At 8:06, I noticed the basketball scoreboard, which apparently can be raised up into the ceiling when not needed. I wouldn’t have minded if the scoreboard had fallen and smashed into a million pieces, because I detest basketball. But I figured it would be better if that didn’t happen until after the concert.
At 8:12, Take Me Out To The Ballgame played over the sound system, followed by music that I couldn’t place for sure, but which I think was from the movie Field Of Dreams.
At 8:17, the concert started at 8:00 sharp, with You May Be Right. It seemed to me that Billy’s voice wasn’t real clear. It seemed a little distorted, and it got drowned out by the music at times. Maybe it was the fact that it was the first concert on the tour and they hadn’t worked out the bugs yet. Or, maybe it was just me. From there, he went straight into Allentown, with the crowd going wild every time he said the magic word, "Pennsylvania."
After that, he took a break to talk to the crowd a bit and talk about the football game from the day before. "It was real touch-and-go for a while there, wasn’t it? Had me on the edge of my seat." Penn State had won 27-0, their first shutout in two years. "Couldn’t they at least make it interesting?" Then he let the fans vote on what song they wanted to hear. Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song) beat The Stranger, which I have to admit disappointed me a bit.
Then he said he’d let us vote on the topic of "mushy love songs," after commenting to keep in mind that they were written by someone who had been divorced twice. He gave a quick example:
"I said I love you"
"And that’s forever"
"I guess I meant it at the time..."
The vote between She’s Always A Woman and You’re My Home was too close to call, so he borrowed a coin from an audience member and flipped it. You’re My Home won.
He also played An Innocent Man, forewarning us that they hadn’t played it in years and it might really suck. He also said that audience response was important, since they were starting the tour and trying to figure out what would work and what wouldn’t. "We have a sheet of paper and we put a check by every song. ‘Works,’ ‘dies.’ How you react will determine what everyone else for the rest of this tour hears. But hey, no pressure!" Then they played the song, but he wasn’t even subtle about the fact that the really high notes weren’t sung by him. I suppose between age and the illness, he can’t hit those really high notes anymore.
At one point, he commented that he had missed Halloween, and was a little disappointed by that, so if we’d indulge him... As though the audience would have complained anyway. After all, it’s his damn concert. So the band launched into Monster Mash. Did a very good job, too.
For my money, the greatest moment came after Prelude/Angry Young Man. The lights all went out. The music stopped. The crowd went silent, everyone waiting to find out what would happen next, the anticipation building. Then, fading in slowly, was the sound of a helicopter. And the crowd roared as the opening notes of Goodnight Saigon began. Those few who had brought lighters had them lit and in the air, and kept them lit throughout the song. Something about the song, and the fans, at that moment sent a chill down my spine.
The concert continued, Billy doing some songs at the back of the stage where the people seated behind the stage could see him, sticking the microphone into the crowd and letting them sing the last line of It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me, and just keeping the fans entertained from beginning to end.
Finally, after Scenes From An Italian Restaurant, Billy shouted "Thank you Penn State!" and the band left the stage. The lights all went out. To my surprise, several of the people around me got up and left at that point. Maybe they didn’t have a clue. Or maybe their idea was to stay long enough to be able to brag to their friends that they had attended, and then get the hell out of Dodge fast enough to beat the traffic. I hate people like that.
In any case, after several minutes, the band returned to the stage and did two more songs, then went through an elaborate pantomime where the band was leaving, and Billy gave "Hey, where the hell are you going" signals, and they waved "Bye" back to him. Of course, the band eventually came back and did Piano Man.
For the record, the complete set list was:
You May Be Right
Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)
You’re My Home
An Innocent Man
I Go To Extremes
Prelude/Angry Young Man
Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)
River Of Dreams
We Didn’t Start The Fire
Sometimes A Fantasy
It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me
Scenes From An Italian Restaurant
Only The Good Die Young
"And don't take any shit from anyone!"
Hey, for my money, it was worth it. I was hoping he’d play a couple of the more obscure tracks, and felt Sometimes A Fantasy shouldn’t have been included (I really don’t care for that song), but I was glad just to be there for the concert. Hopefully I’ll get to see him again, sometime. Probably won’t be until the next millennium, but it’s worth the wait.
Now if only I can get to a Rush concert before they pack it in...
I did get to see a Rush concert, and it was an excellent concert, too. Unfortunately it was at Montage, which is a totally suck-ass venue designed by some clueless jerk who was apparently related to someone with power, and he designed an amphitheater where the floor, from the front row to the back, is almost parallel to the sightlines to the stage, meaning that you can't see the stage unless you're at least six inches taller than the person in front of you, which wasn't a problem for me, though I bet I was blocking the view of people three rows behind me (which is their problem, not mine, but still). I enjoyed finally seeing Rush. I just can't help but wish that everyone else who paid to get in had been able to see them too.